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What Does a Black Hole Look Like?

What Does a Black Hole Look Like?

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What Does a Black Hole Look Like?

Lunghezza:
240 pagine
3 ore
Pubblicato:
Aug 31, 2014
ISBN:
9781400850563
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

A sophisticated introduction to how astronomers identify, observe, and understand black holes

Emitting no radiation or any other kind of information, black holes mark the edge of the universe—both physically and in our scientific understanding. Yet astronomers have found clear evidence for the existence of black holes, employing the same tools and techniques used to explore other celestial objects. In this sophisticated introduction, leading astronomer Charles Bailyn goes behind the theory and physics of black holes to describe how astronomers are observing these enigmatic objects and developing a remarkably detailed picture of what they look like and how they interact with their surroundings.

Accessible to undergraduates and others with some knowledge of introductory college-level physics, this book presents the techniques used to identify and measure the mass and spin of celestial black holes. These key measurements demonstrate the existence of two kinds of black holes, those with masses a few times that of a typical star, and those with masses comparable to whole galaxies—supermassive black holes. The book provides a detailed account of the nature, formation, and growth of both kinds of black holes. The book also describes the possibility of observing theoretically predicted phenomena such as gravitational waves, wormholes, and Hawking radiation.

A cutting-edge introduction to a subject that was once on the border between physics and science fiction, this book shows how black holes are becoming routine objects of empirical scientific study.

Pubblicato:
Aug 31, 2014
ISBN:
9781400850563
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Charles D. Bailyn is the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University. He is currently serving as dean of faculty at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. He was awarded the 2009 Bruno Rossi Prize from the American Astronomical Society for his work on measuring the masses of black holes.

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Charles D. Bailyn, What Does a Black Hole Look Like?

WHAT DOES A Black Hole Look Like?

CHARLES D. BAILYN

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

PRINCETON AND OXFORD

Copyright © 2014 by Princeton University Press

Published by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540

In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 6 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TW

press.princeton.edu

All Rights Reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bailyn, Charles D., author.

What does a black hole look like? / Charles D. Bailyn.

   pages cm. – (Princeton frontiers in physics)

Includes index.

Summary: Emitting no radiation or any other kind of information, black holes mark the edge of the universe–both physically and in our scientific understanding. Yet astronomers have found clear evidence for the existence of black holes, employing the same tools and techniques used to explore other celestial objects. In this sophisticated introduction, leading astronomer Charles Bailyn goes behind the theory and physics of black holes to describe how astronomers are observing these enigmatic objects and developing a remarkably detailed picture of what they look like and how they interact with their surroundings. Accessible to undergraduates and others with some knowledge of introductory college-level physics, this book presents the techniques used to identify and measure the mass and spin of celestial black holes. These key measurements demonstrate the existence of two kinds of black holes, those with masses a few times that of a typical star, and those with masses comparable to whole galaxies–supermassive black holes. The book provides a detailed account of the nature, formation, and growth of both kinds of black holes. The book also describes the possibility of observing theoretically predicted phenomena such as gravitational waves, wormholes, and Hawking radiation. A cutting-edge introduction to a subject that was once on the border between physics and science fiction, this book shows how black holes are becoming routine objects of empirical scientific study.– Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-0-691-14882-3 (hardback : acid-free paper) – ISBN 0-691-14882-1 (hardcover : acid-free paper) 1. Black holes (Astronomy) 2. Astrophysics. I. Title.

QB843.B55B35 2014

523.8′875–dc23

2014009784

British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available

This book has been composed in Garamond and Helvetica Neue

Printed on acid-free paper. ∞

Typeset by S R Nova Pvt Ltd, Bangalore, India

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For D.

CONTENTS

PREFACE

The goal of this book is to introduce readers to the empirical study of black holes. Readers are assumed to have some knowledge of basic college-level physics and mathematics. The focus is on current understanding and research relating to astrophysical manifestations of black holes rather than on the underlying physical theories. Nevertheless, an understanding of the physics is necessary to understand and interpret observations. So, I have presented descriptions and derivations of the physical processes in a way that I hope will illuminate the observations and have focused on the physical principles involved rather than the full presentation needed to solve detailed problems. Interested readers should consult the many excellent textbooks in the field for further discussions. In particular, Bernard Schutz’s book A First Course on Relativity; Rybicki and Lightman’s Radiative Processes in Astrophysics; Shapiro and Teukolsky’s Black Holes, White Dwarfs and Neutron Stars: The Physics of Compact Objects; and Frank, King, and Raine’s Accretion Power in Astrophysics are all classic texts at the upper undergraduate and introductory graduate student level that present the relevant physics clearly and in detail. The focus in this text is on the observational astrophysics—on what is observed and what can be inferred from the observations—in short, on what black holes look like.

I am very fortunate to have lived my life as part of a community of incisive thinkers who have helped me learn and understand the material in this book, and many other things besides. In particular, I am grateful to my undergraduate advisors-turned-colleagues Pierre Demarque, Bob Zinn, and Richard Larson, who have been teaching me and encouraging me for more years than any of us would care to admit; to my graduate advisors Peter Eggleton and Josh Grindlay, who introduced me to the wonderful world of interacting binary stars; to my long-time collaborators Jeff McClintock, Ron Remillard, and Jerry Orosz, who have worked with me for two decades to ferret out the characteristics of stellar-mass black holes; to my many friends and colleagues who have made Yale such a wonderful place to work on high-energy astrophysics, including but not limited to Meg Urry, Paolo Coppi, Andy Szymkowiak, Michelle Buxton, Ritaban Chatterjee, and Erin Bonning; and to my outstanding students-turned-colleagues who have struggled with me to understand the many manifestations of black holes, particularly Raj Jain, Dipankar Maitra, Andy Cantrell, Laura Kreidberg, Jedidah Isler, and Rachel MacDonald. Finally, I must express gratitude and love for my learned and loving nuclear and extended family, most particularly to the gentleman to whom this book is dedicated, who taught me more about how to think than anyone else. That I have anything at all to say on this or any other scientific topic is due largely to conversations with these and many other interlocutors, both in person and in the published literature. But any deficiencies in understanding or in exposition are mine alone.

WHAT DOES A Black Hole Look Like?

1

INTRODUCING BLACK HOLES: EVENT HORIZONS AND SINGULARITIES

Black holes are extraordinary objects. They exert an attractive force that nothing can withstand; they stop time, turn space inside out, and constitute a point of no return beyond which our universe comes to an end. They address issues that have always fascinated humans—literature and philosophy in all times and cultures explore irresistible lures, the limits of the universe, and the nature of time and space. In our own time and place, science has become a dominant force both intellectually and technologically, and the scientific manifestation of these ancient themes provides a powerful metaphor that has come to permeate our culture—black holes abound not only in speculative fiction but in discussions of politics, culture, and finance, and in descriptions of our internal and public lives.

But black holes are not just useful metaphors or remarkable constructs of theoretical physics; they actually exist. Over the past few decades, black holes have moved from theoretical exotica to a well-known and carefully studied class of astronomical objects. Extensive data archives reveal the properties of systems containing black holes, and many details of their behavior are known. In the current astronomical literature, the seemingly bizarre properties of black holes are now taken for granted and are used as a basis for understanding a wide variety of phenomena.

The title of this book is oxymoronic. The defining property of black holes is that they do not emit radiation (hence black)—so they cannot look like anything at all. Nevertheless, black holes are the targets of a wide variety of observational studies. This paradox is of a piece with much of modern astrophysics, in which objects that cannot be observed directly are studied in detail. Cosmologists have found that more than 90% of the mass energy of the Universe is in the form of unobservable dark matter and dark energy. Thousands of planets have been discovered orbiting stars other than our Sun, but only a tiny handful have been observed directly. So it is with black holes. They cannot be observed directly, and yet they can be studied empirically, in some detail.

My goal for this book is to describe how astronomers carry out empirical studies of a class of objects that is intrinsically unobservable, and what we have found out about them. I will focus on current observations and understanding of the astrophysical manifestations of black holes, rather than on the underlying physical theories. There are a number of excellent textbooks on the physical processes, and I will refer to them along the way. The first three chapters sketch some of the physics needed to understand and interpret the observational results. Subsequent chapters describe observed black holes, and thus provide an answer to the question, What do black holes look like?

1.1 Escape Velocity and Event Horizons

One of the basic concepts to emerge from Newton’s theory of gravity is the escape velocity, denoted Vesc. The escape velocity is the speed required to escape the gravitational attraction of a spherical object. It can be shown from basic principles that

where G is the gravitational constant (equal to 6.674 × 10−11 m³ kg−1 s−2), and M and R are the mass and radius, respectively, of a spherical object.¹

It is a simple matter to calculate the escape velocity for any combination of size and mass. For example, numbers approximating the size and mass of a human being (1 m and 50 kg) result in an escape velocity of just over 80 µms−1 (or about a foot per hour). While this result would apply precisely only to a spherical object with R = 1 m and M = 50 kg, an object of comparable mass and size would have a comparable escape velocity. Because the resulting escape velocity is much slower than the speeds associated with everyday life, gravitational effects between ordinary objects (people, cars, buildings) can generally be ignored. By contrast, the Earth, with a mean radius of a bit less than 6400 km and a mass of 5.9 × 10²⁴ kg, has an escape velocity of 11 km s−1—much faster than everyday speeds. So, without mechanical assistance we remain bound to the Earth.

The most conceptually straightforward description of a black hole is an object whose escape velocity is equal to or greater than the speed of light. Such objects had already been contemplated in the eighteenth century.² In such a case, we can rewrite the escape velocity equation as

where c is the speed of light, and Rs is the Schwarzschild radius (named after the early twentieth-century physicist Karl Schwarzschild). In the context of Newtonian physics such objects have no particularly striking physical qualities other than their small size (Rs of a mass equal to that of the Earth is only about a centimeter). Presumably, light would not be able to escape from them, so they would be hard to observe. But the fascinating physics associated with black holes emerged only when general relativity was developed.

Nevertheless, it is amusing to play with the Newtonian concept of black holes as objects with Vesc c and to notice how the size and density of black holes vary with their mass. The density ρ of an object is defined as mass/volume, so the density of a black hole must be

Thus the density required to form a black hole decreases as the mass of the black hole increases—masses 10⁸ times that of the Sun (which, as we will see, are common in the center of large galaxies) will become black holes even if their density is no greater than that of water. Black holes with masses comparable to those of typical stars must attain densities comparable to those of atomic nuclei, that is, much greater than the density of ordinary matter. Less massive black holes would require densities far beyond that of any known substance.

In the general theory of relativity, the Schwarzschild radius becomes fundamentally important. Gravity is not considered a force in general relativity but, rather, is a consequence of the curvature of space-time. Mass causes spacetime to curve, and this curvature affects the trajectories of objects. In situations where the distances between objects are large compared with their Schwarzschild radii, the predictions of general relativity become indistinguishable from those of Newtonian gravity, and all the familiar Newtonian results can be recovered. However, as distances between objects approach Rs, objects begin to behave differently from Newtonian predictions. Indeed, the first observational evidence supporting general relativity came from slight anomalies in the orbit of Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun. Mercury’s mean distance to the Sun is about 20 million times the Schwarzschild radius associated with the mass of the Sun, so the deviations are quite small, but the orbits of the planets are known very precisely, so the deviation was already known before Einstein developed his theory. Closer to the Schwarzschild radius, the differences between Newtonian and relativistic physics become greater, leading eventually to drastic qualitative differences in behavior. These dramatic effects cannot be observed in Earth-bound laboratories, or indeed anywhere in the solar system, because all nearby objects have radii that are many orders of magnitude bigger than Rs. But as we will see, black holes and the dramatic physical effects associated with them can be found in other astronomical contexts.

For objects that fit inside their Schwarzschild radius, the spherical surface where r = Rs is often referred to as the event horizon. This name comes about because information from inside the event horizon cannot propagate to the outside world. Consequences of events that occur at r < Rs cannot be seen by an observer outside Rs. The interior of the event horizon is thus causally disconnected from the rest of the Universe—in a sense, it is not part of our Universe. The behavior of matter and energy inside the event horizon can be explored mathematically by assuming that the equations of general relativity apply and then interpreting the results of mathematical manipulations of these equations. However, the laws that lead to the equations also categorically prohibit them from being tested by experiments or observations conducted by observers located at r > Rs. Thus from an epistemological point of view, physics inside an event horizon is a different kind of science from physics in parts of the Universe that are causally connected to us.

1.2 The Metric

We will not explore the details of the mathematics associated with general relativity here.³ But simply looking at the form of some of the relevant equations can reveal some of the remarkable qualities of black holes.

Mathematically, the curvature of space-time is defined by a metric. A metric defines a line element ds,

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